Building Self Belief · Mar 12, 2020

4 Ways To Maintain Sales In Challenging Times

I’m Tom Barry, Co-Founder of Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? and have been in sales and management roles since my first job in 1980. I’ve been through three major economic disruptions in that time, and yet I’ve somehow found my way through each of them in great shape!

Given the current challenges of the ‘Coronavirus World’ – and what looks like will be another major economic disruption – what tips from my experience might help sales folk emerge in great shape too?

If you’re selling in a Coronavirus World, it’s all over. Or is it?

I remember the moment well. It was on a flight from Heathrow to Houston in February 1991 to join the annual sales meeting of my US consulting firm. It was in the depth of the first Gulf War and a stark UK recession – that I first heard the question. “Are you a salesperson with 10 years’ experience? Or someone with one year’s experience, 10 times over?”

With her usual efficient focus, my sales manager asked me to write down my answer to her question and list the reasons why. She made me challenge my perceptions about the sales environment I was in. She made me look again at what I could use from my experience to succeed. And she helped me discover what subsequent research, gut instinct and common sense has reinforced over the years since.

That despite the most challenging economy, customers focusing elsewhere and prospects guarding their current relationships over new ones, if you call on your experience and get curious about changing your sales recipe, you can emerge in great shape.

My top four

That conversation on the plane has stayed with me ever since. It led me to play a proud part in helping our business thrive against the odds. More recently, it got me researching again what high performing salespeople and their managers do to make their sales boats go faster, when others aren’t.

And guess what? In Yogi Berra’s famous words, “It’s déjà vu all over again!” It’s not new. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t even require special skills or training. It is a set of activities that every salesperson  can start to apply and have huge impact on their activity rate, self-belief and customer engagement – all key contributors to winning sales.

One: They get curious about their sales recipe

Being clear about your sales process is at the heart of successful selling. But it’s amazing how many salespeople are oblivious to the causes that get them their results.

Simply by waking up and wondering, you are one step ahead of the competition.

Firstly by yourself, and then gathering others together, ask:

  • What gets me one sales result rather than another?
  • What are the variables that might have an impact in a changed environment?
  • What’s my recipe for success?
  • What does my experience tell me worked in similar situations? What did others learn?

Get curious about what you should be focused on. Review your own experience. Look at other teams. Analyse your past performance. Try and figure out what are the key ingredients and your recipe for successful selling. And take action straight away.

Two: They build belief that it is possible

As Henry Ford reputedly said, ‘Whether you believe you can or you can’t, either way you’re probably right.’ High performing salespeople build unshakeable confidence to know they can succeed, no matter what environment they are selling into.

How? By constantly reminding ourselves of our useful beliefs, in order to strengthen our conviction. Here at Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? we capture a written list of ‘why we are going to win’. We place recent and past successes on our Evidence Wall, often surprising ourselves about how fast our boat is already going in a tough environment. We talk regularly about our useful beliefs, before and after our customer meetings. It’s a dialogue that’s vital when pressure intensifies.

Three: They provoke their customers and prospects

High performing salespeople give a sh*t. They ask for opinions and advice. They share insights. They tell it how they see it and they want their prospects and customers to do the same. It is easy to talk yourself into doing just the opposite in tough times – exactly the time you need to stand out from your competition.

Selling ‘big’ to companies that are cutting or containing budgets is tough. And senior executives – not the managers we might traditionally have dealt with – are increasingly the decision makers. Whilst we have always sought to find the ‘burning platform’ in selling, the need to do this is even greater now.

Identify a critical problem facing your customer – one so ominous that, even in a downturn, they will find money to address it. And then formulate a provocative view, a fresh perspective, and lodge that with a senior executive who has the power to approve the solution you’re proposing.

Four: They get creative and find reasons to connect to their customers and prospects – again and again

In the complex multi-stage sale, phone, video and face to face time is crucial to building effective relationships. But in the Virus World, time is at a premium. Provoking your customers is fine – but don’t expect a long meeting, no matter how ominous the problem you’ve identified.

In my experience, strong customer relationships are not made by the length of time you spend together. They are made by the number of times you meet or speak. Three 30-minute meetings over a month far outweigh one 90-minute meeting.


  • The customer gets to see that you meet your promises between meetings. You deliver.
  • You get the chance to prove your knowledge and to help them as further issues arise over the month. In one meeting, you tend to look only at one issue.
  • You discover more each time about them and their values

Find as many reasons as possible to be in front of your bigger clients or prospects. Take a proposal over by hand. Deliver a book. Bring a ‘knowledge gift’. But book no more than 30 minutes in the diary. And if you can phone, don’t email. And if you can visit (corona risk dependent of course), don’t phone.


So, it’s not all over for salespeople in the current state of our world’s health! Winning new business, retaining key customers and finding new prospects isn’t getting any easier. However, high performing salespeople who have high activity, build self belief and keep customers engaged are no different to most. They just do different things.

They remember that they can call on 10 years’ experience, not one year’s 10 times over.

If you’re a salesperson with a Coronavirus challenge, build a plan, do these four activities and measure your progress. And remember, whether you believe you can or you can’t, either way you’re probably right.

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